IT was Portugal’s own Jose Mourinho, apparently, who first talked of “parking the bus”, a phrase which has subsequently been added to football’s lengthy list of transport-related clichés.
Legend, not to mention fact, has it that Mourinho used the term to refer to Tottenham’s negative approach in earning a 0-0 draw against his Chelsea side at Stamford Bridge in September 2004.
“As we say in Portugal, they brought the bus and they left the bus in front of the goal,” said Mourinho, and the football world listened to what he had said, and thought it was good, and so they repeated it at every opportunity when a team played defensively.
Six years on, “parking the bus” sits comfortably alongside other such clichés as “you could drive a bus through the centre of that defence” (note: you can drive a bus through any defence, unless they counter by erecting bollards or a traffic light system) and “goals are like buses for a striker” (ie. often late, dirty and with an advert for a Disney film plastered on the side).
Appropriately given Mourinho’s nationality, Portugal have displayed an impressive ability to park the bus during this World Cup. Before tonight’s game against Spain in Cape Town, they had played out rather uneventful goalless draws against Ivory Coast and Brazil, neither of whom had managed to poke the ball through the gap between the floor and the underside of the bus. (I shall assume it was a double decker, thus rendering the chip over the top impossible.)
The thing is, though, that you can’t win the World Cup by drawing all of your games (as someone really ought to tell Paraguay). So at some point, you have to move the bus.
Portugal had done this very effectively against North Korea, securing the biggest win at the World Cup finals since Germany beat Saudi Arabia 8-0 in 2002. But against teams more on their level, Portugal had shown little adventure.
They did have a go tonight, although it was still a tight game. Cristiano Ronaldo had a couple of decent free-kicks, Tiago tested Iker Casillas with another long-range effort and Hugo Almeida headed wide when he might have done better. Early in the second half, Spain centre-back Carles Puyol almost scored an own goal dealing with a tricky Almeida cross.
Spain only really came to life when Fernando Torres – still rediscovering his fitness after injury – was replaced by the lively Fernando Llorente, though it was David Villa who scored what turned out to be the winner. Villa’s sharp finish, after his initial shot had been saved by the excellent Eduardo, was the first goal Portugal had conceded at this World Cup. There really is never a bus when you need one.
The closing moments were memorable for Portugal right-back Ricardo Costa’s late sending off. TV replays were inconclusive as to how much contact his elbow had made with Joan Capdevila (and it would have been good for those pundits who have been telling us for two days solid that television footage is the answer to all of football’s ills to admit that).
However, Capdevila’s reaction did appear hammy enough to earn him a role in Hollyoaks. (You can kip on Torres’ floor while you’re over for the filming, Joan.)
Portugal’s parked bus was only ever going to get them so far. Now it’s heading for the airport.
This match was not dull enough to make the World Cup Gubbometer, which means Portugal lose their share of top spot, now held outright by Algeria. At the end of the clumsily-titled Round of 16, the standings look like this:
World Cup Gubbometer
1. Algeria: 2 (CI: 2/3)
2=. Japan: 2 (CI: 1/2)
2=. Paraguay: 2 (CI: 1/2)
2=. Portugal: 2 (CI: 1/2)
5=. Cameroon: 1 (CI: 1/3)
5=. Ivory Coast: 1 (CI: 1/3)
5=. France: 1 (CI: 1/3)
5=. Honduras: 1 (CI: 1/3)
5=. New Zealand: 1 (CI: 1/3)
5=. Switzerland: 1 (CI: 1/3)
11=. Brazil: 1 (CI: 1/4)
11=. England: 1 (CI: 1/4)
11=. Slovakia: 1 (CI: 1/4)
11=. Uruguay: 1 (CI: 1/4)
15=. Everybody else: 0
(NB. Teams are awarded one point every time they take part in a game so mind-numbingly tedious that it would almost certainly have been last on Match of the Day had it been a Premier League fixture. Teams level on points will be separated by the Capello Index – the number of points divided by the number of games played.)